Just how creative do you like your murderising to be in video games? Do you enjoy collecting the heads of those filthy Imperials in Skyrim? Perhaps you prefer to land a painstakingly aligned shot to the baubles from a kilometre away in Sniper Elite? Or maybe you’re the morally questionable type who enjoys wheel spinning over the corpses of hobos in Grand Theft Auto? If not one of those scenarios raises so much as an eyebrow and you crave something more, then you’re either in need of a psychiatric evaluation, or you’re a Hitman fan.
IO Interactive’s assassin simulator has always been something of a unique beast in the stealth genre. It assumes a level of intelligence in its players, with the absence of hand-holding and constant tension as you slink in and out of restricted areas encouraging a more strategic approach. Its heavy focus on disguise and subterfuge to deceive enemies leads to some ludicrously goofy scenarios, too (how often did you see Sam Fisher or Solid Snake shank a Hugh Hefner-lookalike whilst dressed as Santa Claus?).
What really distinguishes the Hitman series from its competition, though, is the open-ended gameplay design. Throughout the years it’s birthed some spectacular missions which have taken protagonist Agent 47 all across the globe. From the neon-drenched casinos of Vegas, to the icy wastes of Siberia, and all way to a Romanian abattoir during a particularly rambunctious S&M party, these are places you want to explore, and you’re given the freedom and the tools to tackle your objectives by any means necessary.
2018 sees the return of gaming’s greatest assassin, with Hitman 2 (not to be confused with Hitman 2: Silent Assassin) dropping on November 13. To mark the occasion, let’s take a look back at some of 47’s most unforgettable contracts.
5. World of Tomorrow (Hitman – 2016)
Our countdown begins with what is unequivocally the most visually sumptuous playground Agent 47 has yet been unleashed in. Taking place in the picturesque coastal town of Sapienza, Italy, this contract tasks our assassin with eliminating Silvio Caruso and Francesca De Santis, a duo of doctors responsible for the manufacture of an extremely lethal and traceless virus capable of targeting specific types of DNA strands.
Thanks to a marriage of both sheer scale and verticality, Sapienza is the archetypal Hitman map; a sprawling sandbox laden with immense possibility. The area is split into three distinct sections: the coastal town, the villa, and a hidden underground lab where the virus is supposedly being synthesised. Whilst a quick stroll up the cobblestoned streets sees you flanked by harmless idling tourists and yacht enthusiasts, the atmosphere dours as you approach the imposing gates and walls of Caruso’s villa, the perimetres of which are patrolled by shifty looking fellas with shoulder holsters and expensive shirts. Off in the distance you spot your target. It’s Silvio himself, strutting nonchalantly along the villa’s balcony.
It’s here where Sapienza’s many paths slowly begin to reveal themselves. There’s a locked door off to your right. Can you get through it? Does someone have a keycard? Off down the road to your left you notice a couple of couriers stood near a crashed van. Apparently, there’s been an accident involving a cyclist, and the driver has swerved off the road and hit a tree. Could you subdue one of them and steal his uniform, using the disguise to slip through the main gate and into the villa more easily? Maybe you could check the cliffside pathways behind the villa to see if there’s a service entrance you could sneak in through? It’s entirely your decision to make.
Once you’re inside the villa proper, the paradigm shifts; wide open space gives way to claustrophobic corridors where a momentary lapse in judgement can see your cover being blown in a heartbeat, and the closer you get to Caruso’s room, the tighter security gets. It’s here that you may wish to consider changing out of that rather unconvincing delivery boy outfit and into something a little more befitting.
After eliminating Caruso and switching your focus to De Santis, you discover that she has a bit of a thing for Caruso’s golf coach and is hoping to arrange a liaison with him. A wily opportunist could use this to their advantage and choose to impersonate the coach before calling De Santis and luring her back to her room. If you’re quick enough, you could spike her champagne with a poison that sends her running to the bathroom. You could also then follow her and drown her in the toilet bowl. Just an idea.
Standout moment: masquerading as Caruso’s psychologist and smothering him with a pillow during a therapy session.
4. A New Life (Hitman: Blood Money)
There are few things in life more sinister than the thought of Agent 47 lurking amidst sleepy suburban bliss, but this contract demands he do just that.
In the crosshairs this time is former Cuban crime lord Vinnie “Slugger” Sinistra. In return for government protection, he intends to snitch on his associates and submit microfilm evidence (which is hidden in his wife’s necklace) at an upcoming trial. Consequently, he and his family are relocated to a cosy new abode in a quiet San Diego neighbourhood and provided with around the clock federal agent protection.
A New Life is one of Blood Money’s smaller maps, but one that makes a lasting impression, thanks mostly to the fact that it allows you to dress up as a birthday clown, feed a dog a sedative-laden sausage and squirt lighter fluid onto a barbecue to fry Sinistra’s wife when she ignites it. Imagine witnessing that from your bedroom window.
It’s also rather amusing to don the clown garb and casually amble up the street armed with dual SMGs, massacring every last NPC except for Sinistra, who you then keep alive in a state of perpetual torment. Suddenly, the thought of the friends he betrayed catching up with him doesn’t seem like much of a big deal anymore.
Standout moment: discovering you can obtain an FBI agent’s outfit by pinching ether from the veterinarian’s house across the street, applying it to a pair of Sinistra’s daughter’s underwear and watching as one of the agents sneaks into her room to take a hearty sniff. There’s probably a moral lesson in here somewhere, but I was too busy sniggering to notice.
3. Beldingford Manor (Hitman: Contracts)
Notable for being the only contract in the series to take place in England, Beldingford Manor is another example of Hitman at its best. 47 is tasked with rescuing the son of the client, Giles Northcott, as well as eliminating both the patriarch of the Beldingford family and his son, Alistair, the night before a hunting party (during which poor Giles is to be the target).
The manor itself is heavily guarded by groundsmen packing double-barrelled shotguns, with bloodthirsty hounds primed and ready to maim should an intruder be detected outside. Daddy Winston is relaxing upstairs in his bedroom, sharing a bed with one of his many maids. Meanwhile, Alistair is entertaining an array of guests in one of the downstairs rooms.
Like Sapienza, Beldingford Manor presents myriad possibilities for both infiltration and assassination. There’s a curtain blowing through Winston’s open bedroom window, which is perfect for those who enjoy picking off their targets from a distance with a sniper rifle. Want a bigger challenge? Try to sneak inside the bedroom via a hidden passageway behind a bathroom mirror and poison his glass of milk. Speaking of poison, Alistair can meet his demise if you manage to get into the cellar and poison the whiskey cask. Heck, why not take it one step further and sedate the butler before going back upstairs and serving Alistair the spiked whiskey personally?
Standout moment: dropping a can of gasoline down a chimney, where it lands on the fireplace in a room below, explodes and incinerates Alistair and several of his friends. Don’t expect a Silent Assassin rating after this one.
2. Anathema (Hitman 2: Silent Assassin)
For many (including myself), Anathema was where it all began. The first game in the series, Hitman: Codename 47, only ever saw a PC release. It wasn’t until its 2002 sequel, Hitman 2: Silent Assassin, that the series made its debut on consoles, bringing its signature stealth gameplay to the PS2 and Xbox masses. And with Anathema, developers IO Interactive put their best foot forward. All the hallmarks are here; huge environment, gorgeous setting, fun disguises and more methods of infiltration that you can shake a bloodied bit of fiber wire at.
Our target is mob boss Don Giuseppe Guillani. Unlike the many other contracts 47 has taken on, this one is personal, and is the catalyst for him returning to a life he tried to leave behind. You see, Guillani did something quite naughty and kidnapped 47’s mentor, Father Vittorio. Naturally, 47 wants him back, and also wants the Don eliminated for his transgressions.
You’re let loose on a road leading towards the front gate of Guillani’s villa. From here, you have three immediate options: sedate (or straight up murder. Choice and freedom and all that) the nearby postman and get inside the compound under the pretense of delivering flowers to the Don, neutralise the guard who comes out of a side entrance to relieve himself and then take his threads, or knock out the grocery boy and assume his role, using the crate of food he’s carrying to stow a weapon and ultimately give yourself easy access to the villa’s kitchen.
Offing the Don can be straightforward if you have the sniper skills to pop off a headshot from afar, but the sound of the shot is likely to alert the guards, scuffing your Silent Assassin rating. If you want to really test your mettle, try sneaking up to his office disguised as a guard and garrotte him when he enters. A savvy hitman can then hide the body and stroll right out of the front door without being given so much as a second glance from a passing housekeeper. I’d say Father Vittorio owes you a beer after that impressive display.
Standout moment: finishing the contract with an exclamation point by lifting car keys from Guillani’s brother, stealing said car and driving it straight through the main gate. Ciao, fellas!
1. Traditions of the Trade (Hitman: Contracts)
In a sea of truly memorable missions, it’s difficult to isolate a clear winner, but Hitman: Contracts’ Traditions of the Trade cinches it, distilling the very best elements of the series as a whole into the contents of a single three-storey building.
This mission is actually a remake of the mission of the same name in Hitman: Codename 47. The stage is the Hotel Galar, Budapest (based on the real life Hotel Gellert, which is also located in Budapest). A United Nations Peacekeeping Conference is scheduled to take place in the city, and brothers Frantz and Fritz Fuchs are intent on ensuring it goes off with a bang. Literally. The client wants both brothers eliminated and for the chemical bomb they’ve smuggled into the hotel to be retrieved and brought back for analysis.
47 arrives at the hotel on a dismal rainy evening a short way from the hotel. Before you lies the body of an unconscious businessman carrying a conference ID card. Unless you intend on going in guns blazing, you’ll need this to gain access to the hotel proper. Upon entering the hotel, it’s time to decide which of the two targets you wish to seek out first. Check in at reception, too, if you like. You’ll discover which room Frantz Fuchs is staying in for your trouble.
The hotel is a maze of elevators, stairs, rooms and long corridors, with a heightened level of security thanks to the UN conference, so the initial setup requires a good amount of reconnaissance and careful observation if you desire a clean hit. Disguises include a security guard uniform, a bartender and a bellboy – the latter granting you brief access to Frantz’s room.
Off to the left side of the lobby is the spa, and this is where Fritz Fuchs is located. There are two distinct ways to eliminate him: strangulation as he slowly swims lengths of the swimming pool, or waiting until he heads into the sauna and then cranking up the thermostat to lethal levels after trapping him inside the room.
Getting to Frantz is a little trickier. The front door to his room is blocked by a bodyguard, and the rear balcony entrance is patrolled intermittently by a second bodyguard. Luckily for 47, though, Frantz enjoys a long shower, and the sound of running water does well to mask the footsteps of our assassin. This allows you to hop across to his room from an adjacent balcony, take out the patrolling bodyguard and creep up behind the final Fuchs brother (who, curiously, is wearing a tiny red thong) before dropping him with a round from your silenced pistol.
Of course, you could disregard all of that completely and instead choose to enter the hotel armed with a minigun, make mincemeat out of everyone inside and leave with the chemical bomb – and the worst possible rating the game can give.
What really makes Traditions of the Trade the apex of the series’ design, though, is just how confidently it combines all of the systems and mechanics that are so intrinsic to an authentic Hitman experience; player agency, freedom and a sandbox to experiment in. Subsequent missions have superseded it in scale, sure, but there’s a quiet charm and focus to this contract that means it may never be topped.
Standout moment: stumbling across a cordoned off area of the hotel which is home to the scene of a brutal murder, only to find the ghostly apparition of the victim in one of the rooms. Bizarrely, you’re actually able to “kill” the ghost again with your fiber wire if you manage to get around behind him. It seems 47’s reach extends even past death.